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Health Facts

For a Healthy Weight, Find Your Balance Between Food and Physical Activity

Staying at—or getting to—a healthy weight may help you in several ways. Not only will it help you feel better and look better, but research shows it plays an important role in reducing the risk of several types of chronic disease.

Excess body fat leads to a higher risk for premature death, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, respiratory dysfunction, gout, arthritis, and certain kinds of cancers.

Determine what a healthy weight is for you.

Use the Adult Body Mass Index (BMI) Chart on the next page to help you determine if you are underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. Locate your height in the left-most column and read across the row for your height to your weight. Follow the column of the weight up to the top row that lists the BMI. BMI of less than 19 is underweight, BMI of 19 through 24 is the healthy weight range, BMI of 25 through 29 is the overweight range, and BMI of 30 and above is the obese range.

For those who are overweight or obese, modest weight loss (e.g., 10 pounds) has health benefits, and the prevention of further weight gain is very important. Eating fewer calories while increasing physical activity are the keys to controlling body weight.

Many Americans need to eat fewer calories, be more active, and make wiser food choices.
Eat fewer calories. Calories count—and they come from both food and beverages. There is a right number of calories for you to eat. You can estimate your number on the Estimated Calories Needed table on the next page.

Be more active. Eating fewer calories, of course, is just one side of the equation. Caloric expenditure needs to be in balance with caloric intake to maintain body weight. That means the calories “burned" during physical activity (in addition to activities of daily living) need to be the same as the calories taken in as food and beverages. All adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity, on most days of the week. However, to prevent weight gain, you may need up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity activity on most days of the week, while not eating more calories than you require. To keep off lost weight, you may need as much as 60 to 90 minutes of moderately-intense physical activity a day while not eating too much.

Make wiser food choices. Remember, it is always important to eat foods that are high in nutrients for the amount of calories they contain, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Using the food label on packaged foods can help you make healthier food choices. And don't forget to watch your portion size. Controlling portion size helps limit calorie intake, especially when eating foods that are high in calories.

It's easier to maintain than to lose weight. Since many adults gain weight slowly as they age, small decreases in calorie intake can help, especially when accompanied by increased physical activity. For most adults, a reduction of 50 to 100 calories a day may prevent gradual weight gain.

Consider this… If you eat 100 more calories a day than you burn, you'll gain about 1 pound in a month. That's nearly 10 pounds in a year. The bottom line is that to lose weight, it's important to eat less and move more. Think about your daily eating habits: Could you leave the jelly or butter off your morning toast? Switch to an artificial sweetener in your coffee? Use less salad dressing?

People who need to lose weight should aim for slow, steady weight loss by eating less and moving more. For overweight or obese adults, it's beneficial even to lose a small amount of weight, and it's important not to gain more weight. If you need to lose weight, a reduction in 500 calories or more each day from added sugar, saturated and trans fats, and alcohol is a good strategy to lose weight. Diets that provide very low or very high amounts of protein, carbohydrates, or fat are likely to be deficient in important nutrients.

Adult BMI Chart
Height BMI 19-24
Healthy Weight (in pounds)
BMI 25-29
Overweight (in pounds)
BMI 30-35
Obese (in pounds)
4'10" 91-115 119-138 143-167
4'11" 94-119 124-143 148-173
5' 97-123 128-148 153-179
5'1" 100-127 132-153 158-185
5'2" 104-131 136-158 164-191
5'3" 107-135 141-163 169-197
5'4" 110-140 145-169 174-204
5'5" 114-144 150-174 180-210
5'6" 118-148 155-179 186-216
5'7" 121-153 159-185 191-223
5'8" 125-158 164-190 197-230
5'9" 128-162 169-196 203-236
5'10" 132-167 174-202 209-243
5'11" 136-172 173-208 215-250
6' 140-177 184-213 221-258
6'1" 144-182 189-219 227-265
6'2" 148-186 194-225 233-272
6'3" 152-192 200-232 240-279
Source: Evidence Report of Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, 1998. NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Estimated Calories Needed by Gender, Age, and Activity Level a
Gender Age (Years) Sedentaryb Moderately Activec Actived
Child 2 - 3 1,000 1,000 - 1,400e 1,000 - 1,400e
Female 4 - 8 1,200 1,400 - 1,600 1,400 - 1,800
9 - 13 1,600 1,600 - 2,000 1,800 - 2,200
14 - 18 1,800 2,000 2,400
19 - 30 2,000 2,000 - 2,200 2,400
31 - 50 1,800 2,000 2,400
51+ 1,600 1,800 2,000 - 2,200
Male 4 - 8 1,400 1,400 - 1,600 1,600 - 2,000
9 - 13 1,800 1,800 - 2,200 2,000 - 2,600
14 - 18 2,200 2,400 - 2,800 2,800 - 3,200
19 - 30 2,400 2,600 - 2,800 3,000
31 - 50 2,200 2,400 - 2,600 2,800 - 3,000
51+ 2,000 2,200 - 2,400 2,400 - 2,800
aThese levels are based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrients report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals. "Reference size," as determined by IOM, is based on median height and weight for ages up to age 18 years of age and median height and weight for that height to give a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 21.5 for adult females and 22.5 for adult males.
bSedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
cModerately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
dActive means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
eThe calorie ranges shown are to accommodate needs of different ages within the group. For children and adolescents, more calories are needed at older ages. For adults, fewer calories are needed at older ages.